SONG OF SONGS (Appignanesi, 2005. UK)

Posted: 19/01/2010 in Brit Flick, The Verdict
Tags: , , , , , , ,

SONG OF SONGS (Appignanesi, 2005. UK)

I vaguely recall reading a good review of Song of Songs round about the time of release. I was paying attention to Natalie Press back then; after the critical success of Wasp and a respectable showing in My Summer of Love she was looking set to become something of a darling of the British indie crowd. It had a very limited release however and after finally catching it on iPlayer I can see why. Press is perfectly acceptable in her performance, all the actors do the best that could be expected with the source material, but the whole enterprise just begs the question ‘why?’

Billed as a domestic drama exploring the tensions between an Orthodox Jewish family when the matriarch falls ill, SOS is in fact nothing so routine.

While it was interesting to see the rituals and behaviours of Jewish orthodoxy (for example the stock character of the estranged son who rebels against his upbringing is recharged here in the articulate and complex David who, despite his rejection of the Orthodox creed, compulsively adheres to the proscribed ritual hand washing)- not often portrayed or described in popular media- this claustrophobic play is imbued with a sense of unease that had me squirming in my seat twenty minutes in.

Despite a lean running time of eighty-one minutes Song of Songs rapidly becomes infuriating. I’m no stranger to glacial development, but here we are endlessly subjected to two steps forward, one step back. The implied sexual tension which repeatedly builds between siblings David and Ruth is undermined by distracting, but presumably deliberate, loss of focus before being diffused yet again by a slow and baffling fade to white.

The film is riddled with odd behaviour and obscure, if not opaque motivations, including the brother moving back into his family home, ostensibly to tutor his sister, ‘deprogramme’ her of religious indoctrination if you will, but concealing his presence from their ailing mother who is crying out to see her alienated son before she dies. The course and purpose of David’s instruction is impossible to second guess and somewhat sadistic and Ruth’s submission to him symptomatic of her inability to place herself within the insular Orthodox community of London.

In all this film is deeply unsatisfying and fails to be either shocking or profound. The queasy denouement is a moment which should probably have come halfway through, if at all. The final scene was frankly incomprehensible. If you’ve got a flatmate with dubious personal hygiene whom you cannot entreat to shower under their own volition, perhaps showing them Song of Songs will do the trick. Otherwise, steer well clear.

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